Little Bunting, 13/04/2021


The pre-dawn drive to OPS was in fog and -2 degrees C. I was pleased that the fog cleared towards the estuary, and heading around Lagoon 3, had a new-in Sedge Warbler singing (and a Whitethroat and another Sedge Warbler from day before). The estuary was calm but pretty much empty. I got to the SW corner of Lagoon 3, where the best reedbed is, and stopped to scan the fields to SW from here as I do every visit (since finding a Great Bustard from this spot !).

As it was early morning (6:45am) and the sun started to poke through, there were lots of common birds singing, but a harsh call from behind me started to get my attention. It was the sort of call that is hard to tell where it is coming from. The only bird I could see was in the bottom of a small Sallow tree, just 10 yards away, between the path and reedbed. On viewing with binoculars, I could only see its rear side-on and it looked like a Tree Pipit below. But when it changed position I could see it was a bunting, and I assumed it would be a Reed Bunting which nest in this reedbed. I thought to myself, 'well you learn something every day', as I had never heard a Reed Bunting give such a call, and I am very familiar with them. I assumed (again) that its nest was nearby, and it was complaining at me. So I checked its head to see if it was male or female. And initial view was into sun a bit, and of a dark head, with no obvious light stripes, so I thought maybe male Reed, coming into adult. It then hopped to face me, and I got the full-face view in sunlight ! It basically had a fully chestnut coloured face, but I didn't get an adrenaline rush yet, I just thought, "that looks like Little Bunting". Then I dragged up a long-ago memory of twitching one at Sutton Wick, CVL in April 1996 and back then thinking how easy it would be to find one from that call. (It wasn't!) Then I got the rush, and the bird changed position again, and I had most of the head features confirmed, inc. chestnut crown-stripe and white eye-ring. Probably a male in breeding plumage.

I reached for my camera and got it out the bag, just as the bird hopped to the very top of the small tree. I raised the camera and just as I got to the bird . . . it flew ! I could not believe it, as it gained height and flew long and high out of sight to south. I'll save you the expletives.